Don’t Call it a Dispensary. Why Michigan Takes Marijuana Semantics Seriously.

The state of Michigan in mid-June 2018 announced the word “dispensary” would be banned from any advertising by stores that sell cannabis, along with 15 other terms that often appear in advertising.

Instead, the shops will be labeled “Medical Marihuana Provisioning Center” or “provisioning center,” according to a June 11 announcement from the state’s Licensing and Regulatory Affairs department.

Other terms that are banned by the state agency include: “apothecary,” “drug store,” “pharmacy,” “prescription,” and “medicine store” among others.

Advocates for safe access to cannabis as medicine said the announcement could create confusion for patients, though state representatives said the announcement didn’t mark a change in policy.

“It’s not really a change,” said David Harns, the spokesman for Michigan’s Bureau for Medical Marijuana Regulation within the state’s licensing department.

“It’s more of a clarification. State law has always said the public health code defines who can use the term ‘dispensary’ and all the other words we put in the advisory.”

The policy was received with a mixed reaction from advocates for medical access who said that while eliminating the word “dispensary” could be confusing for patients, eliminating other words could be good policy.

“… It is critical that patients have clarity as to where they can obtain medicine,” said David Mangone, director of governmental affairs and counsel for the non-profit Americans for Safe Access. “It is too early to tell if this will adversely affect patient access. However, banning terms like prescription is good policy, because doctors can’t actually write prescriptions for medical cannabis under federal law, only provide recommendations.”

Michigan voters approved medical cannabis in 2008. In 2016 the state legislature passed legislation to license dispensaries, or “provisioning centers.” The state has hundreds of such centers operating under temporary authorization.

The ban on the term “dispensary” resulted from state officials preparing to license new businesses.

“A lot of different terms have been used,” Harns said. “It’s come about in the licensing process. We had to clarify the word usage. Rather than doing it one-by-one through inspections as we looked into each application for a license, we thought it best to put out an advisory.”

In July, Michigan will begin awarding the first licenses. In November, voters will again decide the fate of cannabis in Michigan. This time it will be focused on whether cannabis should be available both for recreational and medical users.

Because the state is poised to approve recreational use, the June 2018 announcement could baffle medical patients down the road.

While changing the use of dispensary to ‘Medical Marihuana Provisioning Center’ is a minor one, it could create confusion for patients depending on what the state decides to call facilities that end up participating in the adult use market,” Mangone said.

Michigan spells marijuana in the more antiquated style with an “H” because of a 1937 law concerning cannabis. Spelling marijuana with the more conventional “J” would require a legislative act, according to the Detroit Free Press.

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